When it comes to identifying the various dispensations in the Word of God, there are as many systems as there are saints to expound them. Some hold to seven dispensations, others five, some eight, or something beyond. But one point of agreement, no matter how many dispensations you find, seems to be the threefold division of the Word of God given to us by the apostle Paul.
Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who…were without Christ…(Eph. 2:11,12).
But now in Christ Jesus ye… are made nigh by the blood of Christ (Eph. 2:13).
That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of His grace…(Eph. 2:7).
Time Past, But Now, The Ages to Come. Every student of God’s rightly divided Word will acknowledge the critical nature of this simple, yet powerful, three-fold division of the Scriptures. We have been blessed by the grace of God with a Bible containing truth for time past, truth for today, and truth for the ages to come. Of these truths, many remain constant and unchanging throughout, while many do not.
But is this three-fold division of Time Past, But Now, and The Ages to Come, a new thing? Is the apostle Paul the first to present this clear perspective on God’s written Word? Or more importantly, have we as dispensationalists invented this threefold division from a single and obscure coincidence forced from Ephesians chapter 2?
Remember that the written Word of God, as He ordained to keep it, began with Moses, and that Moses was born with more than two thousand years of Bible history behind him. This means that when the Bible began there was a time past, a but now, and an ages to come. In other words, there has never been a time that the written Word of God has existed without this three-fold division to consider. Therefore it stands to reason that if this division “of ours” is to be taken seriously, it would not be the exclusive property of the apostle Paul. It would be stressed and pressed throughout the entire Word of God.
THE SCRIPTURES OF THE LAW
With the above thought in mind, we contend that no Bible writer stresses and presses the issue of time past, but now, and the ages to come, with more urgency than the first Bible writer himself. Consider Moses’ charge in Deuteronomy chapter 4.
For ask now of the days that are past, which were before thee…(Deut. 4:32).
Thou shalt keep therefore… His commandments, which I command thee this day…(Deut. 4:40).
When thou art in tribulation… even in the latter days…(Deut. 4:30).
Here in Deuteronomy chapter 4, we find Moses urging the people of God to carefully consider, “The Days That Are Past,” “This Day,” and “The Latter Days.” Does that sound familiar? Time Past, But Now, The Ages to Come, is not a call exclusive to the Body of Christ. Every saint who has taken God’s Word seriously from its inception has been commanded to recognize this same division.
Now notice carefully what Moses says about “the days that are past.” First, he commands “…ask now” of the days that are past (Deut. 4:32).
“Ask about time past! Consider it, meditate on it. Don’t overlook the days that are past in this Bible that I’m giving to you.” But why should they ask about the days that are past? Is it merely so they can learn from the history, from the example and mistakes of their fathers, or is there something more?
Well, before Moses instructs his people as to the importance of understanding time past, he clearly defines it for them.
“The days that are past, which were before thee, since the day that God created man upon the earth” (Deut. 4:32).
This is an interesting statement when compared to Romans chapter 5, where Paul describes, and confirms for us, the importance of this very same period…
“For until the law…death reigned from Adam to Moses” (Rom. 5:13,14).
Even so, for Moses and the Israelites with him, “the days that are past,” which they are being urged to consider, consisted of the day that God created man, until their day. That is, “from Adam to Moses.”
Now notice what Moses commands his people to consider regarding that time.
“Ask…whether there hath been any such thing as this great thing is, or hath been heard like it? Did ever people hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as thou hast heard…Or hath God assayed to go and take him a nation from the midst of another nation…according to all that the Lord your God did for you…?” (Deut. 4:32-34).
Clearly, the reason Moses is pressing the days that are past is so that God’s people would recognize and acknowledge the difference in what God was doing with them. It was not merely to warn His people to behave differently. It was to show them that God was behaving differently. This is the very core of dispensational truth. The question God’s people should ask has always been, “What is God doing today? How is it different from what He did in days past? And what will He do in the days to come?”
Of course, the most important part of that three-fold question will always be, “What is God doing today?” So Moses goes on to press that particular issue like no writer since.
First, remember that Paul defines the time from Adam to Moses as being “until the law” (Rom. 5:13). So as Moses continues his exhortation, we read…
“Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your ears this day…The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb…The Lord made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day” (Deut. 5:1-3).
Talk about stressing and pressing! Could Moses be any more forceful as to the dispensational significance of the days that are past versus this day? God DID NOT make this covenant with our fathers. He made it WITH US! EVEN US! ALL OF US! WHO ARE HERE! ALIVE! THIS DAY!
Ok, Moses. Calm down. We get it. God’s commandments today are different than they were in time past. But do we get it? The sad reality is that many of God’s people still do not.
You’ve faithfully offered your tithes and wonder why you have not been blessed with wealth (Mal. 3:10). You pray the Lord’s Prayer and still, God seems unwilling or incapable of delivering you from evil (Matt. 6:9-13). “Maybe if I had more faith; or just prayed more.” But how many offerings does it take, dear brother, dear sister, before God will begin to honor His Word in your life?
May we suggest that the answer you seek is not hidden, but is laid out in plain sight throughout the whole of Scripture? Understanding what God is doing today, and how it differs from time past and from the ages to come, will RADICALLY TRANSFORM your life. It will deliver you from evil (Gal. 1:4), and it will give you wealth, eternal and unsearchable (Eph. 3:8).
THE SCRIPTURES OF THE PROPHETS
Because the people of Israel refused to heed the words of Moses, they were ultimately carried away into a strange land, the land of Babylon, where they languished for a generation. When the Lord finally saw fit to bring them back into their own land, He encouraged them with these words.
“Let your hands be strong… For before these days there was no hire…neither was there any peace…But now I will not be unto the residue of this people as in the former days…For the seed shall be prosperous…Thus saith the Lord of hosts; It shall yet come to pass…many people and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem… In those days it shall come to pass” (Zech. 8:9-23).
Once again the people of God are encouraged to consider “these days,” “the former days,” and “those days” to come. And once again, the great wonder they must acknowledge is the difference in the working of God in each time. Notice again…
“But now I will not be unto the residue of this people as in the former days, saith the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 8:11).
THE SCRIPTURES OF THE KINGDOM
Nowhere is this truth more clearly, simply, and practically set forth than in the following commandments of our Lord to His disciples…
“Behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves. Carry neither purse, nor scrip…” (Luke 10:3,4).
This commandment, to carry no money as they scoured the land of Israel preaching the gospel of the kingdom, was a hard and true test of the disciples’ faith. They were sent forth “as lambs among wolves.” When assaulted they were commanded to turn the other cheek (Matt. 5:39). In other words, “When they hit you once, let them do it. Then invite them to hit you again.”
But not only were these men sent into this peril with a command not to defend themselves, they were sent with a command not even to provide for their own needs. Even if through cunning and carefulness they could avoid the wrath of men, they could never escape their own hunger and cold. They would trust in God and in Him alone to provide for them, or they would go without. And trust Him they did. And provide for them, He did.
“And [Jesus] said unto them, When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye any thing? And they said, Nothing (Luke 22:35).”
Never before was such an unnatural expectation placed upon the people of God. Even when their forefathers were gloriously delivered from the bondage of Egypt, they took dough for their bread and “spoiled the Egyptians” of the things they would need for the journey (Ex. 12:34-36). Men of God had been forced to go without provision before, but never was such a commandment given. This was a new thing God was doing and His people saw it, obeyed it, and received the blessing of God for their faith.
But before you and I go without provision to do God’s work, consider what the Lord says next.
“But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one” (Luke 22:36).
We cannot deny that in Luke chapter 10 the Lord explicitly commanded, “Carry neither purse, nor scrip,” but in chapter 22 His command is equally clear, “…he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip” (and by the way, take something to defend yourself with as well). So which command are His disciples to obey?
For many today, this apparent contradiction seems confusing. Why would the Lord tell us to do one thing in one place only to command the exact opposite in another? Worse yet, some choose to obey one while excusing their disobedience of the other. But for those who know the difference between time past, but now, and the ages to come (people like the disciples of the Lord in our passage), it isn’t confusing at all. In time past, He told them to go without money. “But now” (Luke 22:36) He is telling them to take money. From this point forward they will carry provision or be in violation of the commandment of God.
Be it in the law, or in the prophets, under the kingdom Scriptures or in the dispensation of grace, the conclusion is inescapable. GOD DOES THINGS DIFFERENTLY in different ages. And His people in every age are expected to see it and to follow Him through every change, leaving the old commandment and embracing the new.
The details of the various dispensations which make up our Bible may be disputed. Sincere seekers of God’s truth will always find differences in the particulars. But one thing is sure. One thing cannot be dismissed as a mere detail. God will always require His people to acknowledge and to live by His command for “this day,” considering the difference from “the days that are past,” and to praise Him for the things that will be gloriously different in “the ages to come.”
But now we have to ask, will that always be true? We have seen that the Word of God had a time past from its beginning. But will it always have an ages to come, or at some point in those ages to come will God be finished working new and different things?
Admittedly we can only speculate at this point, and again, sincere saints will differ. But it occurs to this writer that the Word of God itself is eternal. What does that have to do with our subject? Well, two things.
First is the simple fact that this three-fold division has applied in every age from the Bible’s inception to its completion. Even our first father, Adam, will live forever with a time past to recognize in his Bible, though it wasn’t revealed until the apostle Paul (1 Cor. 2:7; Rom. 16:25,26; 2 Tim. 1:9,10; etc.). When Adam was created, God had already done wonderful and glorious things before the foundation of the world that were not revealed until much later.
But equally important is the fact that the “new heaven” and “new earth” in the ages to come are actually titled the “new heaven” and “new earth,” in the eternal Word of God (Rev. 21:1; Isa. 65:17).
So we have to ask, what will the new heaven and new earth be called on the day they’re created? Well, you say, they’ll be called the new heaven and new earth, of course. But what will they be called on the second day? On the third? On the ten thousandth? You see, the eternal Word of God has already given a name to the new creation. It’s NEW! It will always be new. As long as the Word of God is eternal, His new creation will never stop being a new creation.
Now if that doesn’t give you something to sing about regarding the ages to come, new creature (2 Cor. 5:17), nothing will! source